Ignore the hype around Obama’s Israel trip — It’s four more years of settlement growth

Israeli and Palestinian officials have been in Washington laying the ground for President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, scheduled for next month and the first since he took office four years ago. Topping the agenda, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, will be efforts to restart the long-stalled peace process. Last week Palestinian officials said they had urged the White House to arrive with a diplomatic plan. The US president began his first term on a different footing, ignoring Israel and heading instead to Cairo where he made a speech committing the US to a new era in relations with the Arab world. Little came of the promise. Now he apparently intends to start his second term — as Netanyahu resumes office too, following last month’s elections — with an effort to engage with Israel and the Palestinians that is almost as certain to prove an exercise in futility.

The prospect of reviving the peace track between Israel and the Palestinians is not one that is appetising for either Obama or Netanyahu. Both are bruised from locking horns over a settlement freeze — the key plank of the US president’s efforts — during his first term. But equally, it seems, the price of continuing inaction is high too. The Palestinians have repeatedly embarrassed Obama at the United Nations, not least by isolating the US in November as it opposed an upgrade in the Palestinians’ observer status. Inertia also looks risky given the growing unrest in the West Bank over hunger-striking prisoners.

Ahead lie potentially even bigger headaches, including the doomsday scenario — from Israel and Washington’s perspective — that the Palestinians approach the International Criminal Court to demand Israel be investigated for war crimes.
The perennial optimists have been searching for signs that Obama is readier this time to get tough. Neither of the president’s recent major appointments — John Kerry as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel, nominated as defence secretary — has been welcomed in Israel.

US determination has been buoyed, it is argued, by what is seen as a tide change in Israeli public opinion, highlighted by the surprise electoral success of centrist Yair Lapid and relatively poor showing by Netanyahu’s Likud party. Netanyahu’s officials sense similar motives, complaining that Obama’s visit so soon after the election is direct “interference” in coalition-building. The centrists, they fear, will be able to extract concessions from Netanyahu, who will not wish to greet the US president as head of an extremist government. Israeli officials, meanwhile, look eager to mend fences: they have hopefully codenamed the visit “Unbreakable Alliance” and announced an intention to award Obama Israel’s highest honour, the presidential medal.

The more hopeful scenarios, however, overlook the obstacles to a diplomatic solution posed both by Israel’s domestic politics and by the Palestinians’ inability to withstand Israeli bullying. Not least, they ignore the fact that Netanyahu’s Knesset faction is the most rightwing in Likud’s history. He cannot advance a peace formula — assuming he wanted to — without tearing apart his party. Equally, there is nothing in Lapid’s record to indicate he is willing to push for meaningful compromises on Palestinian statehood. On this issue, he occupies the traditional ground of Likud, before it moved further right. A recent poll found half his supporters called themselves right-wing. Last week Netanyahu signed a coalition pact with another supposed centrist, Tzipi Livni, a former Likud leader who now heads a small faction called Hatnuah. The goal, as one Likud official cynically put it, was to use Livni to “whitewash the Netanyahu government in the world’s eyes”.

In other words, Netanyahu hopes a Livni or a Lapid will buy him breathing space as he entrenches the settlements and pushes Palestinians out of large areas of the West Bank under cover of what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz termed a “booby-trapped diplomatic process”.

What of the Palestinians? Will they not be able to mount an effective challenge to Israeli intransigence, given an apparent renewed US interest in diplomacy?
Here is the rub. Netanyahu already has a stranglehold on the politics of his potential peace partners. He can easily manipulate the fortunes of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the two biggest tests he faces: the “peace process” overseen by the international community, and reconciliation talks with the rival Palestinian faction Hamas. The latest talks between Hamas and Fatah broke down in Cairo this month, even though unity, in the view of most Palestinians, is a precondition of their seeking viable statehood. The talks’ failure followed the “arrest” by Israel of 25 Hamas leaders in the West Bank, seizures that Palestinian human rights groups and Hamas warned were intended to disrupt reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly undermined Abbas’s rule, and kept his PA close to collapse, by turning on and off one of its major sources of income — tax monies Israel regularly collects on behalf of the Palestinians and is supposed to pass on.
As a result, Abbas is trapped between various pressures impossible to reconcile: the need to keep Israel happy, to maintain legitimacy with his own people and to foster a shared political agenda with other Palestinian factions.

The sticks that Israel wields force Abbas to keep the door open to negotiations even as most Palestinians recognise their utter pointlessness. Likewise, his constant need to appease Israel and the US serves only to widen differences with Hamas.
The Palestinians are stuck in a political and diplomatic cul-de-sac, unable to move forward either with the development of their national struggle or with talks on viable statehood. Whatever Obama’s intentions, the reality is that this will be another four years of diplomatic failure.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Occupation, Settlers/Colonists, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 24 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    “The sticks that Israel wields force Abbas to keep the door open to negotiations even as most Palestinians recognise their utter pointlessness. ”

    But what is in this for Israel ? Sure, they have an incredibly sophisticated machine but where is it going? What is the end game ? Do Zionists honestly think they have a long term solution to their existential question? They want apartheid- do they really think they can sell this in Galut?

    Israel is so like the Emperor and his new clothes.

    • Citizen says:

      But he thought to himself, “I must go through with the process.” And so he walked with even greater dignity than before; and the chamberlains followed, carrying the peace train which did not exist.

      Or the empty looms could symbolize Zionism itself. There’s really nothing there that is said to be there–out of the mouth of a child. But if you say so, it’s the mark of being incompetent.

  2. Hostage says:

    The more hopeful scenarios, however, overlook the obstacles to a diplomatic solution posed both by Israel’s domestic politics and by the Palestinians’ inability to withstand Israeli bullying.

    I don’t think the Palestinians are looking for a diplomatic solution. I’ll be amazed if there isn’t a full-blown Palestinian uprising during Obama’s visit. The Palestinians have done an excellent job of ignoring Israel and the US on the issue of the UN upgrade and reconciliation talks.

    Abbas will likely take-up the issue of settlements with the 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly before going to the ICJ and ICC over the prisoners in Israel, the settlements, and the blockade/apartheid wall/tax revenue extortion. There is ample evidence of apartheid and persecution.

    Obama and Netanyahu ought to know that the status quo is simply unsustainable. They no longer have the capacity to keep the Palestinians in check. The news this weekend said Netanyahu had released the tax revenues to the Palestinians and was asking that they prevent an intifada. I wish them lots of luck with that strategy (not)! Abbas and Meshall are calling for a non-violent intifada.

    • American says:

      ”Abbas will likely take-up the issue of settlements with the 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly before going to the ICJ and ICC over the prisoners in Israel, the settlements, and the blockade/apartheid wall/tax revenue extortion. There is ample evidence of apartheid and persecution.”…Hostage

      Hope you’re right……seems Palestine’s only chance to me. They need to move faster.

      • Hostage says:

        Hope you’re right……seems Palestine’s only chance to me. They need to move faster.

        Of course. It’s unheard of for an occupying power to collect taxes from the protected persons and withhold them if they are threatened with having to defend their actions in a civilized court of law. If Israeli officials aren’t doing anything wrong, then they have nothing to worry about from the ICC.

        Yet here we have the Finance Minister of the State of Israel admitting in public that his regime is doing exactly that:

        Steinitz told Channel 1 TV Monday that the motives behind Israel’s decision to withhold tax money still remained. The main reasons for withholding tax money, he explained, were the PA attempts to establish partnership with Hamas, and the declarations by Palestinian leaders about their intentions to sue Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court.

        link to maannews.net

        Destroying the economy of the occupied territory is just another example of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, committed with the intention of maintaining that regime (i.e. apartheid).

  3. seafoid says:

    Obama is a waste of time. He’s a corporate whore. Sure he’s better than the Republicans but he’s still a creature of Wall St.
    Hope and change were killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan shortly after his inauguration.

    • sardelapasti says:

      seafoid – “Sure he’s better than the Republicans”
      Proof?
      We are on a Palestine solidarity site, so it must be related to that.

      • seafoid says:

        The republicans would sell the education system to private equity. They would run social security via Wall St.

        There are still differences between the Dems and the GOP.
        But Obama was bought.

        • sardelapasti says:

          seafoid – “The republicans would sell the education system to private equity. They would run social security via Wall St.”
          Which is exactly what the Democrats are doing right now under other names, but how do these two tie in to Palestine?

  4. Good analysis, Jonathan, but your conclusion is no more inevitable than “segregation now, segregation forever.” Israel has become a right-wing mob, riling itself up to pillage and plunder, justifying itself on racist and religious beliefs in existential threats on every front.

    That mob will melt away in the face of relentless criticism of human rights violations, underscored by dying hunger strikers, dying torture victims, former IDF soldiers breaking barriers, Oscar nominations, more and more and more American Jews turning away in disgust. That mob is already losing its mojo, as reflected by Lapid’s stunning success, garnered by focusing on domestic issues, jobs and rent. The rise of domestic issues means the mob has lost interest in the existential threat mantra. Last summer, an Israeli yoghurt maker was selling its product via a mock-up of the existential threat mongers trying to get American generals to start a war with Iran, in which an Arab slang word endorsing their product was clownishly misinterpreted by the Israelis as a go-ahead for nuclear war.

    Enter Obama, as the lonely but determined-to-stand-on-principle sheriff who must talk the mob out of a lynching, by calling out individual Israelis and reminding them of their domestic agendas, their wives and kids, standing for law and order, international law and order in this case, because, those who stand for continued criminal behavior can only sound crazed in that quieter, more dispassionate conversation. If not Obama, then an Israeli who has had enough.

    Four more years of the same is not at all probable. Too many people must continue to make a quiet dispassionate decision to continue to be international criminals, unsupported by the thrill of an out-of-control mob.

    • sardelapasti says:

      Doppler – “That mob is already losing its mojo, as reflected by Lapid’s stunning success, garnered by focusing on domestic issues, jobs and rent.”
      That is usually a sure sign of a major fascist victory. Why should it be different here?

      • piotr says:

        Outside Israel one may argue that “mob is already losing its mojo”, but inside? Lapid made a pact with the far right (meaning, to the right of Likud).

        But this may actually spur American liberal Zionist to endorse settlement freeze and some realistic approach to negotiations. It remains to be seen if the Hagel nomination that was endorsed by Zionist Democrats — together with the rest of Democrats, of course — will turn to be an empty symbolic gesture or a harbinger of change. But it seems that in Israel the interpretation is that there will be a pressure for “real negotiations”, hence the pact of Netanyahu and Livni.

        Obama does not have a temperament of a “lonely sheriff”, he is closer to a weather wane. Or corporate whore, if you will. But American corporations show hint of being tired of Israel.

  5. Obama badly blundered when he “blinked first”, in his confrontation with Netanyahu.
    Wrecked Hillary Clinton’s effort to stop the growth of the illegal colonies in the West Bank. Vali Nasr’s new book (out in April) explains some of the background inside the White House, regarding Obama’s great blunder.

    • dbroncos says:

      Obama’s visit has nothing to do with peace talks and everything to do with a show of reciprocity to the big spenders who financed his recent campaign: Haim Saban, David Cohen, etc… I have no doubt that before they handed over the campaign cash they made it very clear that the Israelis needed a reassuring hug from him and that he needed to travel to Israel to give them that hug. The Israel firsters are getting what they paid for.

    • sardelapasti says:

      James Canning – “Hillary Clinton’s effort…”
      What effort? Proof of effort?

  6. Relentless American stupidity regarding Hamas indeed makes things difficult for Abbas.

  7. RE: “Israeli and Palestinian officials have been in Washington laying the ground for President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank . . . Topping the agenda, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, will be efforts to restart the long-stalled peace process.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    MY COMMENT: Any significant U.S. involvement in the “peace process” will doom it to failure. If the U.S. could/would ‘butt out’ (fat chance of that), the EU might have a slight chance of actually accomplishing something.

    SEE: “Fake peace talks are far worse than no peace talks”, By Noam Sheizaf, +972 Magazine, Published February 20, 2013
    With Tzipi Livni joining Netanyahu’s government and President Obama heading to the region, we might be in for another round of a pseudo – ‘peace process,’ which has become a code name for an attempt to impose ‘a deal’ on a Palestinian pseudo-leadership.
    LINK – link to 972mag.com

  8. yourstruly says:

    why not intifada iii?

    otherwise?

    nothing ahead but the status quo or worse?

    how will another uprising liberate palestine?

    intifade iii rekindles the arab spring?

    during which the arab/islamic masses force their governments to initiate an oil embargo?

    the west (including the usa) is forced to choose between backing a recognized pariah entity (& facing oil shortages) or getting serious about justice for palestine?

    & delegitimization?

    sure to follow?

  9. just says:

    Thank you for your analysis.

    I stumbled across this in the wapo today:
    “Israelis send out invitations to Obama, hoping to bend his ear on upcoming visit”

    JERUSALEM — President Barack Obama is coming to town, and it seems like everyone in Israel wants to be a part of the historic visit.

    From West Bank settlers to peace activists, universities to municipalities, Israelis of all stripes are sending out invites to lure Obama their way in bids to bend his ear on the issues that could decide the fate of the region.

    link to washingtonpost.com

  10. Citizen says:

    Now here’s an example of the type of thinking that I’m afraid leaves me with no hope for America: link to breitbart.com

    It does reflect real fear that the Democrat backing of Obama’s nominee Hagel is not a good sign for America’s “special relationship” with Israel. The ziocons will even take Rand Paul. Looks like he’s stepping up to the job.

  11. Citizen says:

    Here’s an astute article on what Hagel’s handling of his hearing means for America: link to mycatbirdseat.com

    Cloture vote on Hagel is at noon today.

  12. American says:

    More ‘unnamed’ Israeli officials…….

    Obama to Inform Netanyahu of Plans for Summer Iran War
    Will Urge Israel to ‘Sit Tight’ And Let US Start War
    by Jason Ditz, February 25, 2013

    According to unnamed officials quoted by Israel’s Channel 10, President Obama is planning to inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his intention to attack Iran this summer, with June beginning the “window of opportunity” for his next war.

    Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference earlier today that time is “running out” for diplomacy, and it seems that the next P5+1 talks are being set up as the “last chance” for Iran to give in to assorted US demands before being attacked.

    President Obama will reportedly inform Israel of this decision during his upcoming visit next month, and will ask Netanyahu to “sit tight” and stop talking up the war for a few months until the US can get it off the ground unilaterally